Monday, 23 August 2010

How Do You Deal With Criticism?

I am genuinely curious about this one, and would enjoy any comments that could be offered.

I posted a review of this book on Amazon, and today received the following response to it:

What a very poor review. More than OK not to like or rate a book but to so willfully misunderstand huge sections and use such misunderstanding as justification is indolent. So to be specific:

1. Memphis and York - it's an alternative reality - the Memphis the author is referring to may well be a reference to ancient Egypt; the familiar juxtaposed with the unfamiliar may just be an absurdist trick but the aim is to create recognition and confusion not to impose geographic reality. So reckon you did miss this one.

2. Screenplay - just wondering how you write a book without this lazy criticism being applied - and if the author does want a film deal then is this a crime. Is a screenplay any less worthy than a novel. Kind of needs to be judged on it's merits not it's purpose.

3. Women - the whole point of this passage is that it is grotesque - even in the semi-feudal society which the narrative takes place in this is not taken to be right - equally the question about tenderness is an obvious one and the book then goes on to describe dealing with bad tempered men - which is again a exaggeration to show how warped the entire situation is.

4. Smoking - another huge miss - there is a passage earlier on extolling the pleasures of smoking; by this characters brother. Like I said this is just lazy reviewing.

There are many things you could have criticised quite legitimately in this book; but the examples you chose are poor.

He's given reasons as to why he thinks my review is poor, which is appreciated, rather than just saying he hates it. I'm willing to accept my stance on the book in question is suspect because I disliked it a great deal. However, I am also of the belief that the points raised were factors that I found abhorrent, and that other people might read them entirely differently.

So, my question to reviewers (and, I guess, authors) is how do you respond to criticism? Do you shrug it off and just think that the person didn't understand what you were saying? Do you take it on board and think that they might have a point?

All opinions welcome!


  1. I usually get angry first and reflect later. I'd be willing to engage with that person to defend my view but if it was just a difference of opinion then I'd leave it.

  2. I guess I'm inured to criticism, having majored in German Cultural/Religious History, earned two degrees in it, and then have taught in both public schools and residential treatment centers for most of the past 11 years, but I never really let such things bother me for long, if at all. If someone is making valid criticisms, such as the one you cite above, then I am likely to reflect upon how I came to such a stance in the first place, compare it to how the other person developed his/her retort, and then perhaps re-evaluate.

    On the other hand, if I discern that the respondent has no critical framework for expressing those opinions, I am likely to just ignore the comments and move on. However, I am one of those people who do seem to like receiving critiques...and in passing them out, as some of my friends have learned, often to their chagrin, so I might be an odd bird in this.

  3. There are basically three kinds of criticism.

    There is criticism that isn't really criticism: that is, it's willful misinterpretation in order to achieve a goal other than criticizing. These are usually attempts to be clever, to fit an ulterior agenda or just to be a huge jerk.

    There is criticism that is a launchpad for discussion, in which legitimate points are brought up that can be addressed and either conceded or refuted with both parties taking it as nothing more than just that.

    And then there is the criticism that straddles between the two: in which a point the author made or method they used just does not work for the reader. This is chiefly a means of "agree to disagree" and there's not really a lot of points to be made other than to say "well, better luck next time."

    Every reaction to criticism should be tailored for each specific point. If the third, then there really isn't much more to do than settle on that. If the second, then it's best to approach it openly and without fear or anger. If the third...well, what do you do in that case except get angry or ignore it?

    In this particular case, I think your critic believed you were pursuing the first option when it's most likely the third.

  4. Uhm, knowing me, I'd go rant at either the cats or hubby, for a bit, come back read it again and then decide whether it's something that needs a reply.

    Like Sean said, if it's just a difference of opinion, then I'd leave it. Or if it's a criticism of my writing style or something like that, I'd give it thorough consideration, since I know I'm apt to make mistakes, especially as English isn't my native language. But, if it was something like the above, I'd reply. Since he's slating you on a difference of interpretation of the work and while you may disagree on the interpretation, to just slate it as lazy reviewing is unfair.

    So I guess that's my way of handling critique, I take it on board (after fuming) and respond if I think it is unfair or unjust criticism.

  5. I remember your review. I thought it was very good, and actually encouraged me to go and buy the book to see for myself.

    The counter-review seems slightly defensive and in doing so tries to undermine your review rather than trying to stand on its own two feet and offer an alternative viewpoint. Which is a shame, because it weakens their points, stops it becoming a discussion and tries to make it black and white.

    My own reading was much closer to yours, but I'm willing to accept someone could read it as the counter-reviewer did.

    If I were you, I try and ignore the defensive tone and consider the points. If you still stand by them, well then there's nothing you need to defend. If you think with hindsight maybe some of your points are wrong, well then, you've gained greater insight.

  6. It's an easy option, but I'd ignore it. Even if you think it is unfair or unjust, I would never respond - the internet is full of people with their own little ideas about the world, and you have no chance of changing this guy's mind, so what's the point?

    Downrank it as unhelpful and move on, and write the next book review!

  7. I always struggle with this because I've been taught that even if you don't agree with someone - perception is reality. So to them, what they're saying is true, even if you don't think so. So if that's the case, I would always ask myself why do they think that?

    But one thing I have to also take into consideration is that EVERYONE has an opinion. So the advice given to me when I posed a similar question with regards to criticism is, consider the source.

    Hey who knows, this response may have come from the author, or someone that knows him, in which case, the reason for the rebuttal becomes obvious!

    Whoever wrote this was fond of the book. They tried to get you to see it their way but you're still just not feeling it. Of course you could always respond but this guy doesn't give me the warm and fuzzy feeling :-/ So I'd just chalk it up as "point taken" and keep it moving!

  8. It definitely depends on the spirit in which the criticism is offered. If it is offered helpfully (constructive criticism), then I try to swallow my pride and look at it objectively. Sometimes I still disagree with it, but at least it has caused me to reevaluate my position and judge whether it is valid.

    Criticism that is simply spat out of anger, or arrogance, or whatever bad motive, I try to shrug and let roll off my shoulders. Usually I get angry first (in the interest of honesty here), and THEN I'm able to let it go.

    And in any case, any criticism that is poorly worded, or littered with grammatical errors and/or misspellings, tends to make me take it less seriously.

  9. On a public review forum such as amazon, authors should read it and move on. If we feel a need to rant, we should call our moms, best friends, writers circle, but never ever blast a reader publicly.

    If it's an email or other letter, authors should say something like, "Thank you very much for taking the time to read my book. I appreciate the thoughtful feedback."

    I know not everyone is going to like my work, just as I don't like every book I read. I think it's very poor form for an author to ever criticise a reader. It just creates bad feelings all around. Besides that, it won't do any good! People like what they like, and that's just fine.

  10. That guy thinks too much. Ignore and move on.

  11. I think it depends on the criticism. Sometimes people have criticised what I've written and they make excellent points, approach things rationally, and we get a good discussion going, and even if we don't end up seeing eye to eye, we end up amused by the debate in the end anyway. Then there've been people who disagree for the sake of disagreeing, try to guilt-trip me into giving better reviews, or are just plain jerks about it.

    I see this as a writer, too. People being nitpicky, people saying something is crap without explaining why, and then there are the good people who take the time to give legitimate advice and helpful opinions without coming across as though they're saying, "I didn't like this, so change everything to be the way I want it NOW!"

    A lot of people dislike dissenting opinions, and when they come across an opinion that doesn't match their own, they try to shoot it down. Personally, I think you had every right to say what you said in your review. It was, after all, YOUR review, mentioning the things that YOU found good or bad. Calling it "lazy reviewing" is just rude and arrogant. Maybe you saw different things in the book than that person did, and big deal if you did. Whether you missed the point, the author was bad at conveying said point, or the point is open to interpretation is entirely subjective, and frankly, I think that review reviewer needs to get down off their high horse and understand that opinions differ sometimes.

    And I agree with Anonymous. That guy does think too much, and it sounds like they either specialize in writing academic reviews and dissecting the hell out of everything, or is just looking for a reason to come down on somebody who didn't like his favourite book.

    Your reviews are your own. If we didn't have differing opinions on some things, then there'd be no need for reviews at all.

  12. The author's responses seem to me to be pointing to one of two things: either he was unable to convey to his readers what he wanted to convey, or you (the reviewer) were not the audience he was aiming for. As a reviewer, I see it now as my responsibility when I get such comments to ask myself if maybe I was indeed not the audience the author intended and thus shouldn't have reviewed the piece.

    Since your reviews are consistently insightful, I've a feeling it's a matter of the author being thin-skinned. If you were the audience he was intending (a fantasy-book lover, for instance), then he is the one who should be taking the criticism to heart, since he obviously failed to communicate what he wanted to. An author should never have to explicate what he intended in a passage -- the passage should do that fine on its own.

  13. I don't mind it too much when criticism is constructive. When the person doesn't seem to get the point, like this guy, it's just annoying. This is part of the reason I never pay attention to this stuff on Amazon. It's not worth the hassle of dealing with idiots.

  14. Maybe I just missed something here, but was that the author who made those comments or some other random commenter? I don't see anything in the entry that says it's the author (once or twice the comment mentions the author as though they're a seperate entity), but a lot of people seem to be assuming that the comment was left by the author himself.

    If it was an author comment, then wow, talk about being thin-skinned. If not, then, well, my earlier comment still sums up what I wanted to say.

  15. I have had someone criticise me on Amazon because I did not like a book that they did. It was not the author.

    I was honest and said I had tried to get on with the book - he thought because I had got the book for free I should have suffered and read the book whether I liked it or not. I am an adult and therefore I think I should be able to chose whether I put myself through the torture of reading a book or not - if I do make it to the end and still do not enjoy it, then I feel obliged to say so. However that is just my opinion, other people might love it.

    You were honest about your opinion - stick to it always. If someone does not like that opinion then they need to look at themselves not berate the person for not having the same opinion as them.

  16. Before I pay the feedback/criticism any attention, I think about the person giving it.

    If I know the person - I'll put some stock into what they are saying, and do my best to take it more as helpful feedback than something negative. They know me, they know my writing style, they probably know what I was trying to get at, and I know them and trust them.

    If it's a complete stranger - I usually ignore it. seriously.

  17. The only time to really consider the opinions of anonymous masses is if you are running for Election to a public office.. other wise..

    I quit going to web forum because I didn't like it when my statements lead to discussions.. I simply wanted them to be taken for what I offered them as, Statements of Opinion.

    A result of that is that I rarely bother to try to shoot down other peoples arguments, I have very little interest in differing opinions.. I'm generally just content to sneer at the computer, call the other person a moron from the comfort of my computer room and move on with my life.

    After all, if I can't have my opinions swayed, I can't expect them to have theirs swayed.. making the whole activity extremely futile.